The Ballad of Rusty and Roy
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 18, 2011
The Ballad of Rusty & Roy introduces us to a pair of half-brothers who are each working hard to leave behind cartloads of emotional baggage accumulated in their childhoods. Roy is the older brother, married and expecting his first child, working as the family activities coordinator at a New York City church, a job he seems to be very good at. Rusty is the younger brother, single and dealing with relationship troubles, employed as a custodian in another NYC church but really pursuing his true calling as a folk/rock singer-songwriter. The story begins when Roy comes to visit Rusty—whom he hasn't seen in about a year—to ask for his help with an extra-curricular gig providing music for a rich kid's birthday party. Guitar playing has always been one of the major bonds between the brothers. Roy is hoping to renew his acquaintance with his more-or-less estranged younger sibling.
What I like best about Rusty & Roy is its mature, positive outlook. Though the brothers hash out bad memories from years before, and recall the sad times of life with their mother—a serial bride on her 7th husband at the moment—and the fathers who abandoned them, it's always clear that these men are moving forward with their lives as best they can. There's not one second of wallowing in this piece; and the climactic fight sequence—very effective, by the way, as staged by Dan Renkin—smartly takes place not on the hard cement floor but on the padded matting that Roy has rolled out for one of the playgroups he supervises.
Rusty & Roy are both musicians, and music propels the entire show. Roy's repertoire, given his job, is mostly children's songs, and he delivers a bunch of them very engagingly and professionally; he seems like a guy who enjoys sharing the delight of music with everyone, big or small. Rusty is more given over to introspective contemporary songs, of which the one I liked the best is a piece he wrote for his father.
The men behind The Ballad of Rusty & Roy are also accomplished musicians, and the program tells us that much of the story has been adapted from incidents in their own lives. Dusty Brown plays Rusty and contributed all the music. Troy Schremmer plays Roy and co-wrote the play with his wife Jonny. Brown and Schremmer perform the music beautifully throughout and are engaging presences, easy to root for and like.
Schremmer leads a pre-show sing-along that's fun and sets a great tone for what follows.
I had a very enjoyable time at The Ballad of Rusty & Roy, and look forward to more of Brown and Schremmer in music/theatre events to come.